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Monday, December 24, 2012

Kadal Music

Anyone who knows Tamil, on listening to Adiye (from Maniratnam’s next Kadal) for the first time - even those who are quite attuned to the ways and means of A.R.Rahman, would be perplexed. Yes, music has no language, but every language has its inherent musicality. Especially, in folk music, which is supposed to emerge most casually and intuitively from heart and mind of a singer, it should not be possible for a listener to precisely know what came first – melody or the verses. A song emerges from the way the words follow a rhyme and fall into a predestined musical meter and rhythm.

A.R.Rahman breaks this intuitive song making process, and distorts all the preset norms and rules, and creates a song encased in an orchestration that is totally alien to a fisherman, who sings in a trance while madly in love with a girl. Those who don’t understand the language of the verses wouldn't have any problem in connecting with the core emotion of the song, because they wouldn't know that there is a conflict between musical form chosen and musicality of the language of the verses in the song. Adiye is revelation and also a not so gentle reminder of what A.R.Rahman is and always has been after with his music – the universality of an emotion. A.R.Rahman has always been like this – a relentless rebel.

I too was perplexed when I heard Adiye for the first time. But, I shouldn't have, for if Gurus of Peace had released before its original Tamil version Poraalae Ponnuthaayi, I wouldn’t have thought of it as a a song of a girl in love from a remote village in south Tamilnadu, and yet I had no problems in listening to both the Original Tamil song and Gurus of Peace. With Adiye, A.R.Rahman takes his experimentation to a whole new level, with every single word tuned with a western inflection, and Sid Sriram’s not so perfect Tamil rendition adds further to Rahman’s madness. This is yet again an album when listening for the first time you are exactly like the boy who sings “Pallanguzhi Paadhai puriyala Unna Nambi varanae”, you don’t know where all of it is leading you to, but because you are a fan of A.R.Rahman, you trust him and you are patient to walk the tough path, because you always know at the end (of one time listening) it is all going to be worth it. And it is!

However, I don’t think A.R.Rahman entirely doesn’t care about the nativity; it is just that he trusts the sound of the words of the lyricist (Vairamuthu and Madhan Karky) far too much to take care of that part of the experience that the song has to deliver for a listener. Even in a fairly straight devotional song like Anbin Vaasalae, when Haricharan sings “Naan Yen Seivaen” for the second time, he takes a western path that is completely different from the one he took the first time, while gliding through the word “Naan”. A.R.Rahman generally adds surprising Carnatic touches in a totally western song (Hello Mr.Ethirkatchi - remember the Carnatic touch Harini adds to the word yennaachu when she sings Kaelvikku badhilum yennaachu towards the end of the song), and in here he does the exact opposite – sprinkling western inflections in a not so western song.

In Eley Keechan, A.R.Rahman strikes a perfect balance between the native folk and the western country folk in the melody, though the orchestration is entirely western. Again, does he capture the core mood of the song of that of a fun, festivity and celebration? He does and How!

The presence of a song like Magudi - Techno-rap-trance-DJ music - kind of makes some sense when you think of it as a song they play in a rave party at a beach resort (fishermen are not the only people living by sea shore), though sounds like the one made for a beach not in Kovalam but in Goa. I would like to hear an officially leaked rough track done for this by A.R.Rahman in his voice. This is again a genre like folk where music and words are totally intertwined. It is difficult to come up with a tune like that and write lyrics for it later; they both ought to happen simultaneously. Of course, that Thavil layer throughout is unmistakably A.R.Rahman.

When composing devotional songs, A.R.Rahman keeps all genre bending experiments to a minimum and keeps it straight and simple, and yet manages to make it the best song of the soundtrack. Anbin Vaasalae is a song straight from a beach side church of coastal Tamilnadu. If Anbendra Mazhayilae (Minsara Kanavu) was a kind of equivalent of Manmohana (Jodha Akbar), Anbin Vaasalae could be that of Sakthi Kodu (Baba). This song too is structured unlike any other Christian devotional song I have heard before. There is a sense of urgency, a restless energy and power that is not usually associated with a devotional song. There are many Goosebumps inducing moments in the song, but one moment which puts me directly in touch with that higher divine power is when towards the end, the second half of the chorale section suddenly loses the support of the timpani that has been thundering underneath thus far and is suddenly set afloat in the air with just a sea of strings and a deep double bass accompaniment. It is like a guy losing the support of the ground underneath while falling off the cliff and the fall is not to hit the ground, but to spread the wings and fly higher.

The sound mixing technique leaves a composer with so many possibilities, and Rahman knows how to use them to create a unique experience for a listener. Usually in strings arrangement, of the multiple layers of strings, bass cello section is always played underneath the main violin layers, but in here, the lead layers of strings are heard at a distance and deep cello section is at the fore, and this minor twist gives a whole new sonic texture that absolutely puts a listeners in a place that they had never been before. It is as if you are zooming into the distant moon closer to your mind’s eye distancing everything else that is closer to you and keeping it at the distance where the moon actually is. That is Rahman sound of now, one that has far higher purpose than just to make the song sound clean and sophisticated.

Chiththiraiyae Nila, Moongil Thottam and Nenjukulle are soft, lilting, midnight Tamil melodies that carries what we call 90s A.R.Rahman touch. Almost a decade of my life between 1992 and 2000 whizzed past my mind’s eye for a split second precisely when the synth bass kicks in in Chiththiraiyae Nila. Nenjukkulle is that kind of a nostalgic song while listening which you realize that it always have has been a part of your subconscious musical universe and just that you never recognized until A.R.Rahman brought it to your notice. It feels so familiar and yet so fresh. Sakthisree Gopalan is a huge part of the freshness. Husky-grainy voice of Harini for Moongil Thottam, deep and soothing Vijay Yesudas’s voice for a lullaby, uniquely folk-rock voice of Sid Sriram that becomes a part of the music of Adiye and trusting in the rusticity in his own voice for Eley Keechan – choosing right singer for the right song, A.R.Rahman is the one and only.

I like when the music obediently follows the mood dictated by the lyrics and in Chiththiraiyae Nila melody and the backing orchestration follow the lyrics with such innateness that despite all those orchestral and melodic twists and turns, one never feels lost. Also aiding the cause is the recurring hook Yettu Vei Makka that comforts the listener by making them feel not lost before the song takes the next turn. In fact, I don’t remember an A.R.Rahman soundtrack in which all the songs had in them a hook section that recurs so many times within the song and acts like binding glue of the different sections of the song where music plays slavishly to the written verses - Adiye enna enga nee koottippora in Adiye, chorale sections in Anbin Vaasalae, Idhu Podhum Enakku in Moongil Thottam, Vaale kondaalae in Elay Keechan. A.R.Rahman’s iterative approach to music creation makes it possible for a film song to have such intriguing structures.

Maybe this hook-filled structure is why, though all the songs are of varied genres and emotions, there is a sense of coherence in the soundtrack; it feels like all the songs are a part of whole. The wholesomeness of the soundtrack is also because all the songs are consistently light on ears, have no hard percussion sound, ample guitars, vocal harmonies, laidback accordion pieces and a perennially running section of strings that gently rise, fall and curl like that of sea waves underneath the main melody (especially in Nenjukkulle) throughout the soundtrack. The beauty of this soundtrack as a bouquet is far more than the sum of the beauties of the varied individual flowers it is made of. Kadal is one of those soundtracks which you listen to so many times without skipping any track (may be except Magudi) that even when you listen to just one song from the soundtrack on some FM channel, the moment the song ends, you begin to hum the next song – the whole soundtrack becomes one long song.

Now, eagerly waiting for the one more song that A.R.Rahman always adds while composing the background score of a Maniratnam film, which almost always outshines every other song released in the Original Soundtrack CD.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Jab Tak Hai Jaan Music Review

I wanted Jab Tak Hai Jaan to be an A.R.Rahman soundtrack in which the songs have simple and straight melodies with a conventional Indian film song structure and no real quirkiness in any of its aspect that demands the effort of a listener to decode the song. I am not at all averse to Rahman’s quirks and his experimentation, in fact, those aspects make him what he is, but just once in a while, it is no harm to go back to basics, take the cliched route and see what happens and how best he can turn the cliches sound not so. There is a lot of challenge in there. Rebelliousness is fine, but making something utterly basic and conventional and yet likable and make it stand out of the crowded Indian film music scene, is a big challenge in itself. For Yash Chopra’s Jab Tak Jai Jaan, A.R.Rahman, as I expected, has taken that conventional route, and also, more importantly, taken it precisely the way I had expected him to take. Jab Tak Hai Jaan is one wholesome soundtrack. I love all the songs. I am totally satisfied.

A.R.Rahman, many a times in his interviews has told how everything sounded the same back then when he was working as a musician with other composers. He repeatedly referred to the music as “same Dholaks and Tablas”, but quite obviously, he didn't mean that he had problems with using Dholaks and Tablas, he had problem only with using them in every damn song that got made. A.R.Rahman has used Dholaks and Tablas (Nenachapadi – Kaadhalar Dhinam, Kurukku Siriththavalae – Mudhalvan and many more) when it is entirely indispensable in a song that has to have its roots firmly in milieu of the film. A.R.Rahman using Dholaks and Dhol drums in Jab Tak Hai Jaan to the extent he has used isn't a problem. I don’t give a damn whether he was forced to use them. I believe that he hasn't done something he loathes doing. Also, like me, I don’t think A.R.Rahman looks down upon any form of music, he just don’t like using same form continuously. He hates monotony and repetition.

A.R.Rahman is very clever when he uses cliches in his songs. He uses them, but mixes them in the song in a way that suits the situation of the film, and that gives you the comfort of listening to something utterly familiar, and yet never sound embarrassingly simplistic and pedestrian. Whenever Rahman uses Dholaks, Dhol drums or Tabla beats, they would almost always be accompanied by the synthesized beats. In most cases, it is the synthesized beats that hold the main rhythm of the song, while the familiar drums loop along distantly. Both Saans and Heer in Jab Tak Hai Jaan have this blend of Indian percussions and the Synth beats. Rahman boldly uses just the Dhol drums with no trace of any Synth in the rhythm section of the Saans reprise, and it is just as beautiful. He even denounces some of the syrupy instrumental layers, like, that Cello in the Saans song that achingly repeats the melody of the line Mujhe paas aayi immediately after Shreya is done with repeating the line three times. Similarly, the flute piece - that is already playing melodies in lowest registers, in Heer, is totally muted. I would have liked the song just as much if he had mixed them boldly.

Most of the songs have a simple and straight structure - a prelude, main verse, first interlude, first stanza, second interlude, second stanza, reprise of the main verse and a postlude. And we don’t complain as much when he uses this cliched structure. Actually, we haven’t got bored of this structure yet and probably we wouldn’t for long time to come, because this structure is kind of a perfectly balanced mathematical equation. The sense of completeness and wholeness, and thereby the satisfaction, we get in a song, when each section of this conventional structure does its job right, is still unparalleled.

Except for the title song, all the songs in the album have the standard Indian film song structure, and it is after quite a long time since we have heard so many songs with familiar structure in one single Rahman soundtrack. And in that title song, Rahman quite wonderfully jumps between Rahman and Chopra mode and yet the song works like a magic as a whole, because the melody is beautiful and the flow and the transition in the melody between the two modes of the song is quite seamless. It took me a few times of listening to realize the beauty of the emotions in the melody in the lines Tumse hi Mohabbat thi Tumse hi Mohabbat hai – what I call the anchoring phrase in a song that is set afloat like this, and once I did, the whole song fell in place and I was perfectly in sync with idea and the emotions of the song.

Challa - the song sung by the street singer, who has nothing in life except a guitar in his hand and undying spirit to live in his heart, has just those elements in its musical backing too – a relentlessly beaten acoustic drums (brilliantly played by Ranjit Barot) that thump in sync with the rhythms of his heart and guitar that he strums in sync with the melody on his lips. For its melody, Challa is overtly upbeat and dangerously plays to the point of becoming monotonous. Probably, that is why, in the first interlude, A.R.Rahman chose to have an extempore guitar piece, the kind guitarists play following their heart without thinking much. The rhythm section in the second half is different from the first, also, while Rang Satrangi de lines are repeating again with rangi in satrangi repeated twice the second time, the corresponding lines in the second half of the song isn’t repeated at all. If that is not enough, there is a vintage Rahman sargam in the second interlude that peps up the proceedings further.

Heer is simple, flawless and mesmerizing. Harshdeep Kaur renders the song with such honest yearning in her voice; Rahman decided that her voice and the melody is enough to carry the song through and hence denounces everything else in the song. Am I the only to have realized the beauty of the Saans melody after hearing its instrumental version of the melody playing as an interlude in Heer? A.R.Rahman gets into his favourite middle-eastern terrain in Ishq Shava and expectedly he kicks ass. A song meant to make you dance, and it will and how! It is tightly packed with incredibly catchy melody, rhythms, Oud and Mandolin pieces throughout. The only so-so song is Ishq dance. If I heard it somewhere else first, I would have thought of it as a song from one of those Blazing drums series of albums done by various percussionists. I am surprised that the pleasant, swinging main melody in Jab Tak Hai Jaan poem isn’t that of any of the songs in the soundtrack. That main musical theme of the poem sounds incredibly romantic when played on a sweeping string section. I would like to listen to it more in the background score of the film.

The zing and swing of the accompanying guitars, the pitch perfect attitude in Neeti Mohan’s voice and singing, effervescent bubbles of joy that relentlessly burst through the never ending layers of strings underneath, an incredibly peppy and flamboyant melody - Jiya Re is as best as it can get. It is a song transports you to a magical land. The melody that sounds so western on surface is laced with beautiful teeny-weeny classical touches and sargams. Rahman brilliantly binds the main melody and backing orchestration. I mean, I cannot sing the line Chotte Chotte Lamhon Ko titli jaise pakdon without playing in parallel in my mind the accompanying guitars that is actively conversing with the vocals singing the line. How many different varieties of strings accompaniment Rahman provides to the hook line Jiya Re Jiya re Jiya Re! I am still counting. The feel of flight it evokes when Neeti Mohan gradually ascends up after every Jiya Re Jiya Re Jiya has to be experienced to be believed. Jiya Re is vintage A.R.Rahman. Jiya Re is Perfection. Jiya re is Genius. Jiya is limitless Joy.

There are songs and there is Jiya Re. There comes once in a while, a song, which, when I get the song in its entirety for the first time, I jump in joy, I love myself more, everything in the word around suddenly seems to be absolutely perfect, I sense extreme ecstasy, I sing aloud with the song, I sway my head and body in sync with the rhythm, I want to instantly run to and hug the person I so dearly love, I smile at everyone throughout the day (because the song is always looping in my head). I stop listening to the song, and even stop looping it in my mind, because I want to have the experience close to that of the first time, again. I deliberately make myself to crave for the song again. Jiya Re is that kind of a song. That is why, though Jiya Re is my favorite song of the soundtrack, it is still the song I played the least number of times.

This level of joy and excitement while listening to a song like Jiya Re is inexplicable. I don’t know if it just because of the beauty of the song or if this is an emotion compounded by the fact that he composer who made a song that made me feel this way, is the one whose music I care for and love the most. Few days back I tweeted, “This feeling when I listen to Jiya Jiya Re Jiya Re Jiya – omg! Omg! Rahoonga mein ek Rahmaniac Jab Tak Hai Jaan Jab Tak Hai Jaan” and I will.

P.S: I remember that people were quite underwhelmed by Rahman’s music in Yuvraaj when it first released. Now four years after its release, I am surprised that people (not just Rahman fans) remember even one of the string section layers in one of the songs in Yuvraaj, and they say Rahman has reused them in Jab Tak Hai Jaan. That unforgettable, huh?

P.S: “A.R.Rahman has lifted Jiya Re Jiya Re hook from the hook “Dhaiyyaarae dhaiyyarae dhaiyya” of the title song M.S.Vishwanathan composed for a Tamil TV soap called “Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati”. Seriously? Can’t you think of something original Oscar winner?” – I am disappointed that no one in the national media has made this brilliant observation yet.

P.S: After a long time, I see in credits of an A.R.Rahman soundtrack that no one else has done "Additionally arrangements" for any of the songs.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Magic Flute - A.R.Rahman Quiz Answers

I posted a The Magic Flute - A.R.Rahman Quiz a week ago.

The 18 haunting flute pieces heard in The Magic Flute - A.R.Rahman are from

1. 00.00 - 00.16 - Warriors of Heaven and Earth - Escape
2. 00.17 - 00.42 - Lord of The Rings Musical - Song of Hope
3. 00.43 - 00.58 - Doli Saja Ke Rakhna
4. 00.59 - 1.10 - Rang De Basanti - Lukka Chuppi
5. 1.11 - 1.29 - Kannathil Muthamittal - Refugees Theme
6. 1.30 - 1.59 - Mangal Pandey - Jwala Theme
7. 2.00 - 2.15 - Couples Retreat - Meeting Marcel
8. 2.16 - 2.58 - Elizabeth: The Golden Age - Divinity Theme
9. 2.59 - 3.37 - Endhiran (Robot) - Emotions in a Machine
10. 3.38 - 4.00 - Minsara Kanavu - Thomas Hesitates to speak to Priya
11. 4.01 - 4.52 - Swades - Main Theme
12. 4.52 - 5.36 - Dil Se - Love Theme
13. 5.36 - 5.53 - Lagaan - Music from Opening Credits (Also used for Elizabeth's Introduction scene in the film)
14. 5.53 - 6.25 - Fire - Love Theme
15. 6.25 - 6.37 - Kaadhal Virus - Love Theme
16. 6.37 - 7.11 - Meenaxi - Music from Opening Credits
17. 7.11 - 7.20 - Roja - Alone theme
18. 7.20 - 8.11 - Warriors of Heaven and Earth - The Monk and the Miracle


Krishna - 10
Sam Joshua - 2
@_curses - 8
திருவாருரிலிருந்து சுதர்சன் - 3
Ajay Baskar - 6
Sripathy Ramesh - 8
@musicallyAVI - 13
Sunil Malhotra - 8
thedrunkenmonk - 2
Siddarth - 7

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Magic Flute - A.R.Rahman Quiz

The Magic Flute - A.R.Rahman

There are 18 different Flute pieces.

Guess the films from the background score cues and please mention the names of the films in the order in which it appears in the above audio clip.

Please answer only in the comments section of this post. Let everyone have some fun with guessing.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Jab Tak Hai Jaan Pre-release

Challa the first song from the most awaited soundtrack of the year Jab Tak Hai Jaan will be heard, discussed, analyzed and tweeted and retweeted about millions of times in few hours. The song’s main melody was revealed already on Guitar in the very first trailer of the film. I already have a certain expectation on what the song is going to sound like. I am expecting that Challa would have a typical Indian film song structure with standard prelude-stanza-interlude structure. The song will have a lot of Guitar (There are many making-of videos of the songs which reveals that Shahrukh Khan is singing the song wandering the streets of London with a guitar in his hand throughout) and acoustic drums and very less Synth. The song though is written in Punjabi, I am guessing that there will not be any Punjabi elements in the music – no Dhols or Thumbi.

None of my predictions may turn out to be true. But, what is there.

Here is an excerpt related to the pre-release of an A.R.Rahman album from my book Memoirs of a Rahmaniac

Earlier, when the musical storm hit us, it hit in its entirety, it hit all of a sudden, one whole song, one whole soundtrack at one go, but nowadays, much before the release of an AR Rahman soundtrack, we already get to listen to samples of the tracks online. It is because of these the immensity, intensity and force with which an AR Rahman hit us, has reduced.

Also, it is a bad idea to listen to snippets of an AR Rahman song before the release, though I have hardly succeeded in restricting myself from doing that. And the online folks, who want to jump into a conclusion instantly, jump into conclusion instantly! These snippets can no way reveal what the whole experience is going to be. AR Rahman‘s music is as unpredictable as it always has been. If AR Rahman‘s songs still take time to grow on you, listening to thirty second samples could only make the process more difficult.

You first have to come out of your own restricted imagination of the flow of the melody to embrace the entire song the way it actually is. "Am I giving the listener a whole new experience?", "Am I taking the listener to a place they have never been to previously?" are the questions AR Rahman seems to ask when he sits to make a song. In the pre-Internet era, when I use to rush to the nearest music shop to buy an AR Rahman album on the first day of its release, ―What new experience is AR Rahman going to take me through his music this time?‖ would be the only question running in my mind. AR Rahman is the most predictably unpredictable composer of our times. Like they always say, the only constant in AR Rahman‘s music is the change. The AR Rahman soundtracks that released in the last three years, while I was on the journey of writing a book on AR Rahman‘s music, have occupied an interesting place in my life. For the first time, in 2011, I heard a full song from a yet-to-be-released AR Rahman album Rockstar, because of a benevolent Twitter friend.

Ayutha Ezhuthu (Yuva) was the first AR Rahman album that released after I started using Internet in college. For the first time, I heard thirty seconds samples of all the songs of an AR Rahman album (Ayutha Ezhuthu) on the Internet, much before the release of the album. I remember that I did not like the way I was preparing myself to embrace a new AR Rahman album. It killed all the excitement I used to have before buying an album, when I would have no clue of what to expect from it.

Times have changed, but the excitement levels on the verge of the release of a new AR Rahman‘s album still remains the same, despite or many a times because of all those short snippets of music that is spilled over on the Internet and the film‘s teasers and trailers. When I heard the haunting Yuvraaj Piano theme on the official movie website, my excitement hit new levels. The complete Oru Koodai Sunlight song, albeit an incomplete version from Sivaji – the Boss, was leaked on the Internet before the release of the album. I still remember the exhilaration I experienced when I heard O Saya from Slumdog Millionaire on the Internet. I wrote in my blog, "I am exhilarated like I was when I first heard Thiruda Thiruda songs".

There is AR Rahman‘s version of the song Omana Penne which, in the film, is sung by Benny Dayal. It is available on the Internet. Madhan Karky released a scratch version of Irumbilae Or Irudhayam from Endhiran, which was given to him to write the lyrics. I remember writing a review and guessing the moods of the scenes in which the cues are used by just listening to the thirty second samples of the cues from Couples Retreat soundtrack. The grandiose Choir motif Un paer sonnadhum perumai sonnadhum from Endhiran was released much before the release of the soundtrack and as always that too stirred more excitement.

The Rockstar website had the yayaya bit from Jo Bhi Mein as the background music. Also, the main riff of Saadda Haq was available on the Internet six months before the release of the album. Ranbir Kapoor fan site had posted a video taken while the shooting of the Hawa Hawa song was on in Prague. You get to hear snippets of AR Rahman‘s song, even the work-in-progress versions, much before the release. And yet, you cannot help but feel astonished when the song finally unfolds in its entirety in its final form. He does it again, again and again, in the way only he can.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Raaja Veenai Answers

I posted a Raaja Veenai Quiz a week ago.

The 17 Veena pieces heard in Raaja Veenai clip are from

1.Sindhu Bhairavi
2.Agni Nakshatram
5.Mouna Raagam
6.Sindhu Bhairavi
7.Jappanil Kalyaana Raaman
8.Raaja Paarvai
9.Unnaal Mudiyum Thambi
10.Vishwa Thulasi
11.Chinna Kounder
12.Sri Rama Rajyam
14.Singara Velan
15.Vishwa Thulasi
16.Mouna Raagam
17.Aan Paavam


drunkenmonk - 4
RK - 3
Sripathy ramesh - 7
@tekvijay - 8
Krishna - 5
Kaarthik - 9
Venkatesh CR - 13
Sankari - 4

Well done everyone!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Listening to People Like Us

I wanted to watch the film “People like us” to know how well A.R.Rahman’s soothing and sublime score – which I have been listening to and cherishing only as standalone music - has been used in the film. I finally watched the film last week. I liked it.

“People like us” is a very unique soundtrack coming from A.R.Rahman. He diligently maintains a consistent tone and mood throughout the film. Rahman risks monotony to stay true to the central emotions and the idea of the film. If you as a listener are patient and attentive, People like us will take you on a pleasant journey through emotions.

The underlying calm and quiet in the soundtrack isn’t something we get to hear much in Rahman’s works in India. A.R.Rahman doesn’t get to be a part of such sweet little family films in India. In People like us, Rahman doesn’t have to be eclectic, experimental, and he doesn’t. The music beautifully blends with the film. The music feels like it isn’t there at all, but is there and is doing its job with utmost precision, clarity and diligence. The score is honest to the film, never moving even slightly away from the central idea and emotions of the scene or mood in focus.

Rahman’s is a typical Hollywood film score with distinct leitmotifs that could be instantly identified and mapped to the different principal characters in the film. There are many recurrences and delectable variations of the main themes cued at apt moments throughout the film. The score is built around three main themes – Be People theme, Family theme, Dad’s theme and Mom’s theme.

Most of the music is buried under the conversations. The music soars only occasionally, when it does, it blends so perfectly with the drama in the moment that it never feels overt. The extensive use of already existing songs for some key montages in the film might initially make it sound like there is very little score in the film, but every single cue on the soundtrack CD has been used in the film.

And surprisingly, there are few more original score cues in the film which weren’t included in the Soundtrack CD probably for its shorter length, which the insiders call Needle drops. There are pieces of music that serve as a comma or period at the end of a scene. One of them is a beautiful vintage Rahman Piano theme (Cue 11 below) which Rahman could have developed a little further and included in the CD.

Other cues (needle drops)

Cue 1

Cue 2

Cue 3

Cue 4

Cue 5

Cue 6

Cue 7

Cue 8

Cue 9

Cue 10

Cue 11

Cue 12

The main theme of the film is heard in its entirety when Sam (Chris Pine) and Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) have a free-wheeling conversation about their lives in Tacos. Rahman hints just the core of the theme in few instances (Listen to Cue 6 & 8) where Sam and Frankie accidentally bump into each other. I liked how Rahman brings in Dad’s theme whenever the focus of the conversation is on how loveless and indifferent their Father was. The sound of the piece brings with it a sense of an eerie nostalgia, one that you don’t want to go back to and yet can’t help doing it.

Most of the moments in the beginning of the film require the score to pop up for not more than few seconds just at the right point of inflection in drama. And the longer musical sections are mostly buried under conversations and ambient sounds. Only when the movie reaches past its midpoint the score gets more space and plays for longer lengths.

The precision with which Rahman’s score underlines the mood changeover in that conversation between Sam and his mother Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer) where they finally resolve all their differences and reconcile is brilliant. While you already know that Sam and his mother are going to hug in a while, it happens gradually through the conversation, and every little emotional ascend to that final hug is beautifully underlined by a solo guitar that plays phrases with measured pauses in between and the whatever emotionally their minds go through while they reconcile is traced by the acute musical shift in the piece. And when they hug, everything joins in to gently burst into a soft and soothing musical crescendo.

The cue Family pictures that plays magically over the final revelation scene is a brilliantly done scrambled version of the track Tacos in which the main theme is first heard in its entirety. The signature guitar chords, the guitar prelude, the main thematic melody, and the guitar phrases that keeps the mood afloat when the piece moves ahead of the main theme and the haunting cello sub-theme from Tacos are all there in Family Pictures, but the order of the melodic phrases are totally different here, and phrases that appear as part of lead melody in Tacos become supporting phrases for the main melody in Family pictures. This way of scrambling or jumbling elements in a piece is something I haven’t heard much. You never know what comes next, though on surface it feels like both Tacos and Family Pictures are almost same because of the waltz rhythm. The aching Cello sub-theme from Tacos is finally played on a soothing flute solo in the climax implying precisely how all their pain have been soothed by the final revelation.

Unlike Couples Retreat, soundtrack of which was just a worthy addition to Rahman’s discography, “People like us” is a worthy addition to Rahman’s filmography. This is a very important film for A.R.Rahman. The music for a film, however ingenious it may be as a standalone piece of work, is most often times only as memorable as the film.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Raaja Veenai

Back to Quizzing business.

On the lines of How To Name it quiz for Violin and Nothing but Wind quiz for flute, Raaja Veenai is for Ilaiyaraaja's background score cues with Veena as the lead instrument.

Raaja Veenai Quiz

There are 17 different Veena pieces.

Guess the films from the background score cues and please mention the names of the films in the order in which it appears in the above audio clip.

Please answer only in the comments section of this post. Let everyone have some fun with guessing.

Answers Here

Jab Tak Hai Jaan Trailer Music - A.R.Rahman

From the two trailers we have seen so far of Jab Tak Hai Jaan, music seems to have shaped up just the way I wanted it to be. Obviously, there is going to be a lot of Guitar pieces in this soundtrack. Yash Chopra (also Aditya Chopra) and A.R. Rahman seem to have agreed to hit a middle path in this film's music. It is very evident in the music in the second trailer, which is a nice folksy romantic melody with Guitars, mandolins and soaring strings; all typical Chopra's music elements packed in Rahman style.

Jab Tak Hai Jaan Trailer 1 & 2 Music as single track

Also, a warning:

It is a bad idea to listen to snippets of an AR Rahman song before the release, though I have hardly succeeded in restricting myself from doing that. These snippets can no way reveal what the whole experience is going to be. AR Rahman‘s music is as unpredictable as it always has been. If AR Rahman‘s songs still take time to grow on you, listening to thirty second samples could only make the process more difficult. You first have to come out of your own restricted imagination of the flow of the melody to embrace the entire song the way it actually is.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Barfi Background Score

Pritam, Jim Satya & Prasad Sashte have secured themselves the National Award for Best background score of the year with his Barfi score. It has soul stirring leitmotifs (mostly derived from the melodies of the songs) and breathtaking incidental chase-action cues that seamlessly capture all the shifts and cuts in the action and aptly recurring thematic ideas throughout the film.

For Barfi to work, score should work as much as Ranbir’s performance and it sure does.

Just like the film, the score is heavily inspired by the music of Silent film era and European films. I don’t know when was the last time I saw an Indian film with so many long silent visual montages that rely totally on music. Composers beautifully capture with the music every little mood changeover in all of these long stretches of silent montages.

There is so much more to say about this score. I want to watch the film again. I can’t wait for the DVD. I hope they release the background score separately on CD. That Barfi background score is heavily inspired is quite evident, but I hope the cues and motifs weren't blatantly lifted from some foreign films.

30 Cues from Barfi background score. Runs for almost 45 minutes. I couldn’t post many other cues (at least another 20 minutes) because of the overlapping dialogues; the audio clips might spoil the film for those who haven’t seen it yet.

Picture Shuru

Cue 01

Cue 02

Cue 03

Cue 04

Cue 05

Cue 06

Cue 07

Cue 08

Cue 09

Cue 10

Cue 11

Cue 12

Cue 13

Cue 14

Cue 15

Cue 16

Cue 17

Cue 18

Cue 19

Cue 20

Cue 21

Cue 22

Cue 23

Cue 24

Cue 25

Cue 26

Cue 27

Cue 28

Cue 29

Cue 30

Friday, September 7, 2012

Neethaane En Ponvasantham - Orchestration!

The heart and soul of Ilaiyaraaja’s music for Gautam Vasudev Menon’s Neethaane En Ponvasantham lies in the Orchestration. It is not just the preludes and interludes (as expected, interlude stands on its own as a mini symphony with its own motif and its variations); even the vocal portions are heavily supported by the orchestra with many layers of instruments parading one after and one over the other playing supporting and contrapuntal phrases. The immensity of details that Ilaiyaraaja plants in the orchestration of the song is mind boggling, and these details, even if a listener is not really conscious of its presence cannot escape from experiencing the resultant effect.

I am still wondering why Ilaiyaraaja chose to split the song Yennodu Vaa Vaa into two halves and treated each half differently; Raaja writes a symphonic orchestration for the first half, but strips off all that is acoustic from the second half and leaves it entirely to Synth. If it is to demonstrate the difference between lovers now and then as demanded by the script, it is interesting that Ilaiyaraaja explicitly says something by retaining the melody as it is and changing only the orchestration. Musically, I don’t know if it is a valid case to compare and discuss, because, in the first half, with a live orchestra, Raaja stuffs the song with multiple layers of instruments, but he practices a deliberate restraint when the song switches to Synth mode. The melody is allowed to play on its own with a very minimal Synth backing (just a Synth bass I guess) and a pounding electronic pad. I don’t really miss the symphonic orchestration in the second half, for it gives the melody a breathing space and a chance to flaunt its beauty on its own. Even if the entire song were set to Synth I would have hummed, whistled and played the song on loop in my mind as much as I do now.

However, now that I have heard the songs with all those accompanying acoustic orchestral layers, I cannot play just the melody of the song in my mind. The orchestration feels immensely innate to the main melody that when I try to play the song in my mind, all the orchestral layers almost always accompany the main melody, like that Guitar riff (not the main guitar riff) from Saindhu Saindhu that accompanies the lines en thaaiyai pola oru pennai Thedi or that stirringly subdued, brief rise and fall of a dense strings section when Karthik goes thalli thalli ponaalum unnai enni vazhum oru yezhai endhan nenjathai paaradi (that Oboe piece is jarring though) in Kaatrai Konjam.

The melodies of Mudhal Murai Paartha Nyaabagam and Sattru munbu depend a lot on the backing orchestration to evoke the basic mood and emotion of the respective songs. I am not sure if the melody of the line manadhinil yeno or baaram (from Mudhal Murai) can convey the heaviness of the heart the girl is screaming about without that orchestral backing where a hefty strings section aggressively ascend along with the melody. The mad rush created by the drums and strings in dramatic turn the song takes through veyila mazhaiya vazhiyaa sugamaa yedhu nee to hit the high before it breaks into Neethaane En Ponvasantham hook section - this song wouldn’t be as effective without the live orchestration.

Ilaiyaraaja seems to be cautiously introducing the changes in the orchestration in a regular interval in the songs, so that, even though the orchestration changes relentlessly throughout the song somehow listeners know when to expect the next twist or turn. This helps a great deal in not alienating a listener. The element of surprise is very important in orchestral music that could instantly intrigue a listener. Ilaiyaraaja quite effectively manages to give these orchestral surprises without alienating the listener.

I don’t know if it is to avoid sounding repetitious or to impart a new sound, but Ilaiyaraaja does seem to be deliberately avoiding flute and chooses other instruments of wood winds family in its place in most of the songs. So, in an interlude in Kaatrai Konjam, when a flute slowly emerges amidst other instruments, as if travelling a long distance to find its place in the overall scheme of orchestra, I was expecting it to blossom into a full-fledged piece, but Ilaiyaraaja doesn’t yield to the temptation and chops off the flute before it takes a definite shape and overpowers everything else. Emotionally too, this seems to be a moment of nostalgia that was long lost, that seems to have come back to haunt us again, but we are so busy dealing with the things of the present, before we could get entirely engulfed by it, we just forget and move on. Ilaiyaraaja deliberately creates a mystery, leaves it unresolved and keeps us waiting for something to happen that never comes by. I get immensely intrigued by such drama in the orchestral pieces.

There is a natural flow in the song, a sense of coherence and fluidity though the songs break into varied sections of vocal stanzas and instrumental interludes. All of it feels magically glued as one whole entity because of Ilaiyaraaja’s orchestral ideas.

In Saindhu Saindhu, after the first charanam, Yuvan reprises the pallavi and precisely when he is about to end, a Saxophone emerges playing a pleasing phrase and this leads us to the instrumental interlude. The flow is achieved by beginning the beginning of the next section just before the previous section ends, but the fascinating aspect here is that the connecting piece – like the Saxophone piece here – fits the ending of the end of the previous section with amazing musical precision and also naturally reprises in the following instrumental interlude as if it was born and always belonged here. I thought that Saxophone connector piece did its job well and I bid a goodbye, but it is heard as instrumental filler between the vocal lines in the pallavi when it reprises again towards the end of the song. Surprise! Again! The number of ideas that Ilaiyaraaja executes within what on surface sounds like a minimally orchestrated six-minute song is unbelievable.

The first instrumental interlude in Saindhu Saindhu ends with a new guitar riff (quite different from the main guitar motif of the song), and while we think it is part of interlude, Ilaiyaraaja continues to loop the guitar riff as a supporting instrumental layer in the continuing charanam as well. This way he never abruptly cuts off from one section and jumps to other section of the song, always creates a connector that could do its job both as a lead solo in one section and the supporting melody in the other. All of these techniques sound very simple and natural and quite obvious while listening because we got so accustomed to these techniques by listening to Ilaiyaraaja’s music all these years.

In Vaanam mella, Ilaiyaraaja plays a looping supporting melody on Harp underneath the main melody throughout the main stanza, not just for the first time but also whenever it appears in the course of the song, which, I guess is the key ingredient more than anything else that evokes a sense of sweet nostalgia that the boy and girl are singing about in the song. It is the Harp that adds a sense of movement in the song and makes it livelier. In the final reprise, when the song is about to end, Ilaiyaraaja prepares us by suddenly stopping the Harp layer. We sense, though not consciously, that something we were continuously hearing has ceased to be, and we expect a change in the course of the song, which in this case, happens to be the end.

Also, in Saindhu Saindhu, there is a sense of perfect sonic balance and symmetry in the way Ilaiyaraaja opens and closes musical parentheses in the course of the song. The first interlude begins with a soothing string section playing a simple melody (reminds me of that sublime Pournami theme from Guna) without any other instrumental disturbances, after which the piece expands and moves on to other instruments. And we realize that that was the opening of a musical section only when he closes it quite logically at the end of the second interlude where again just the strings section without any other accompaniments play similar melody.

Even the signature guitar riff with which the song begins is reprised at the very end on strings to bring the song to a comforting closure. The whole main stanza Saindhu Saindhu reprises at the end with a totally new orchestral backing instead of its native guitar riff accompaniment, and while I was wondering if the guitar riff was gone forever, there it reprises again on strings section, when the song was almost about to fade out and die, giving a fitting answer to my question and an exhilarating sense of closure to six minutes of musical joy.

Now, what does that symmetry mean to an average listener? A sense of satisfaction that we inherently feel while listening to a piece of orchestral music could also be because of us intuitively experiencing the innateness, the precision and the clarity in the ideas of the creator that comes through the composition. There are no random music fillers or ambiguous musical ideas. When every single layer of instrument in the given piece of orchestral music feel like it is there for a specific definitive purpose, which it is serving with utmost diligence, you can’t help but fall obsessively in love with the music and the composer.

I have the habit of editing the songs like this with just the instrumental preludes, interludes and postludes of a song and play it in the background when I am at work

I did that for Neethaane En Ponvasantham songs too

Kaatrai Konjam

Mudhal Murai

Pengal Yendral

Pudikkala Maamu

Saindhu Saindhu

Sattru Munbhu

Vaanam mella

Yennodu Vaa Vaa

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Kaatrai Konjam (Neethaanae En Pon Vasantham)

This is not a review, just an early word

Melody is vintage Ilaiyaraaja - lilting, breezy and romantic. Ilaiyaraaja gives the melody an extremely dense orchestration and yet it all feels so astonishingly tender and light.

Saxophone, Electric Guitar, Bass, Strings, Solo Violins, Chorus (Male chorus for a change), Piano, flute, oboe, Clarinet, Drums – you name any instrument that you associate with romantic mood, you have it in here. Yet, none of it knocks your ear drums harshly. I haven’t heard such an intricately orchestrated song (there are such orchestral pieces in background scores of Ilaiyaraaja’s recent films) in a while. It is not just in the interlude (as expected, interlude stands on its own as a mini symphony with its own motif and its variations), even the vocal portions are heavily supported by the orchestra with layers and layers of instruments playing phrases and doing magical things that is surprising, intriguing and enchanting.

The unique quality of such Ilaiyaraaja melodies is that though it is so soft and even predictable at times, it never feels slow, stretched or boring; there is an inherent implosion of energy that keeps me hooked.

Sound mixing is amazing. Especially I like that they didn’t chop off the strings that sustains on a note and fades out ever so gradually until it reaches its logical death, even after the section for which it was added ends and the next section begins with Karthik proceeding to sing the next stanza.

The sound of smooth Orchestral Rajaazz is so refreshing and the voice of Karthik goes beautifully well with this genre so much so that his voice becomes a part of the overall sonic texture. It sounds like what Kaadhal Kavithai (one of my all-time favorite Ilaiyaraaja album) songs would have sounded it if they were recorded with a live symphony orchestra and had absolutely no synth elements.

Those who get to listen to this stuff live at the audio launch are blessed souls. I don’t know yet if I can make it to the audio launch.

Can’t wait for the CD!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Boys (Hindi) Soundtrack - A.R.Rahman

When I first heard Cry of a Rose performed live at Hollywood Bowl, I couldn’t instantly recognize what they were playing; it was only when the brass section took off to play the anthemic main motif I realized that they were playing the melody of Bharat Humko Jaan Se Pyaara Hai from Roja. Much later I figured out why I couldn’t instantly recognize the melody. It is because they played the melody of Bharath Humko from Roja (Hindi), which I have heard not more than ten times all my life. They didn’t play the melody of Thamizha Thamizha from Roja (Tamil) which I must have heard umpteen times. Matt Dunkley seems to have notated the score by listening to the Hindi version of the song. Though both “Bharath Humko” and “Thamizha Thamizha” seem to fit the meter of the song perfectly, the notes that one has to touch on the keyboard to play Bharath Humko seem to be slightly different from that of Thamizha Thamizha. I am no expert. Kindly correct me if I am wrong.

I have been listening to Hindi version of the songs from Boys every day ever since it released, like it is a brand new A.R.Rahman album. Abbas Tyrewala has really pulled it off. It isn’t easy to fit Hindi verses into melody and meter set for a Tamil song, especially the songs of Boys, which already has lots of Tamil and English mix in the lyrics.

If music is nothing but sonic vibrations, the vibrations of the words in the lyrics of the song plays a significant role in the final sound and thereby overall emotional impact of the main melody. The musicality of the words and language becomes an inseparable part of the music in the melody. I guess that is why we could never instantly embrace a new version of a song in Hindi after having heard the song for years in Tamil. When the language of the words in the song changes music in the song does change, even if it is only slightly.

Ilaiyaraaja in a press meet said that beauty of the melody is spoiled a little once you put words on it and is further degraded when reproduced by a voice singing those words in the melody. I almost agree. However, I wouldn't go to the extent of saying that the emotions and the beauty are spoiled, instead, I guess, they do get slightly altered for better or worse. Thankfully, in Hindi version of Boys, Abbas Tyrewala’s words don’t do much harm to the main melody. To put it differently, neither the melody nor the words sound like they were forced to fit within the contours of the other.

The only song that seems to have lost its charm considerably in translation is Girlfriend. The inflections in Kya woh of “Kya woh girlfriend thoo tho nahi” isn’t even half as effective as the inflections in Enakkoru of “Enakkoru girlfriend vaendumada”, which is why the motif of the song is still “wohoo wohoo woo hoo woooh woh ho woh” and not what when “Kya woh girlfriend thoo tho nahi” is woho-fied. With a new set of words comes new set of inflection points and that changes the whole spirit and attitude of the hook phrase.

I don’t know why in Secret of Success, “To be a Star, we will show you how” has been changed to “To be a star, wake up wake up”. And even in Hindi, Maro Maro is the weakest song of the soundtrack.

In remakes, especially of that of A.R.Rahman’s songs, it is not just the lyrics that are different. A.R.Rahman never restricts his singers singing the Hindi version to sing exactly the way Tamil singers sang the original. If something new comes by, he wouldn’t hesitate to use it. Like, in Ale Ale, towards the end, in the humming with which the song fades out, Chitra Sivaraman touches the last note and cuts off then and there without any slide, whereas Madhusree adds another note or maybe stretches the same note a little longer and slides down gradually, which does make it sound much sweeter. Also, listen to how different a part in Secret of Success is from that of the original version. I am sure, there are many such other little surprises throughout the soundtrack.

Secret of Success (Hindi)

Secret of Success (Tamil)

Ale Ale (Hindi)

Ale Ale (Tamil)

And then the Voices! In Boom Boom, Adnan Sami is replaced by one with a similar voice – Rashid Ali. A clever choice, but there is some charm in Adnan Sami’s voice, and also, the hefty bass in Sami’s voice goes beautifully well with the basic boom sound in the pop-brass layers of the song throughout. Maybe, that is why A.R.Rahman has retained Adnan’s Boom-Boom-shak from the original in the interludes of the Hindi version too. I missed Lucky Ali’s voice in Secret of Success. Don’t know who has sung it in Hindi. Shaan and Madhusree make “Ale Ale” sound fresh.

I would have been happier if Boys in Hindi were released on Audio CD instead of just digital mp3. I remember that Boys Tamil was released specially in 5.1 Surround sound on CD. I never could buy that CD. Is it available anywhere now?

P.S: Boys related Nostalgia from "Memoirs of a Rahmaniac"

On the first day of the final year in college; it was the time for campus placements. Cognizant Technology Solutions (CTS) was the first company for which I gave the written test and left for Thiruverumbur to buy Boys Audio Cassette – AR Rahman‘s latest soundtrack. I was shortlisted for the interview. Instead of preparing for the interview; I kept listening to Boys songs all day. I instantly got hooked to all the songs. The interview was a breeze. I got the job.

P.S 2: I love Godfather songs in Kannada. I love it much more than I did the original Tamil version when it was released.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing in India

I wrote the below quoted write-up few days ago, but didn’t post it in here for no real reason. Now, with the announcement of Amazon Kindle in India, I guess most of the problems I discussed there have been resolved. The books are priced in Indian Rupees. The Indian authors will get their royalties in Indian rupees. The author’s royalties, if it is above 500 rupees will now be EFT-ed directly to any Indian bank account number as specified by the author. The author need not wait to reach the royalty of 100 Dollars to get a cheque all the way from US. The only issue is that the maximum royalty an Indian author can get is 35%.

So, Memoirs of a Rahmaniac is now available on Amazon Kindle.

Traditional publishing through an established publishing house is the one and only option to publish a book in India. As long as people prefer Print books, self-publishing isn’t a viable option for writers. There is of course self-publishing and print-on-demand, but, neither reader gets value for his money nor the writer earns any decent money in this model. The only profiteer in self-publishing print-on-demand model is the company that prints the book on demand. Print on demand self-publishing isn’t an option. E-book is the way to go.

Book readers in India largely prefer Print books to e-books, mainly because of the general perception that one must sit in front of a computer to read an e-book. Who would want to do that, after having spent the whole day in front of a computer in the office? Also, avid book readers generally romanticize a lot over the touch, feel and smell of the physical print books.

Going by the number of Smartphones, tablets and e-book readers I see people carrying in public places these days, I am sure the mindset will change or is already changing. With these devices, you can read an e-book anywhere, anytime – lying in your bed, in the lunch break in office, in the loo, in the Metro, in the bus, while waiting in a long queue and generally any place where you are idle. For the first time, I finished reading a whole book on my Samsung Note. I read the book mostly while commuting to office in the bus.

But, for publishing and selling e-books, there are very few options in India. I know only of Pothi.com (chillibreeze.com has stopped publishing e-books), where writers can publish their work as an e-book and sell. But, a buyer has to create an account in Pothi.com to be able to buy an e-book, which is a huge turn-off. The one who come to buy in Pothi.com wouldn’t know if he would visit the site ever again to buy another e-book, so the buyer wouldn’t want to waste time in creating an account and logging in, unless the content of the book and the author are irresistible. Also, there are no popular and reliable e-publishing sites like Amazon’s in India. I heard rumours about Flipkart planning to start selling e-books this year. Even if it is true, I am not sure if it would venture into something on the lines of Amazon Kindle where anyone can self-publish.

There are many international e-publishing sites where one can sell their books – lulu.com, amazon.com, smashwords.com, barnesandnoble.com. But, if you are a non-American writer, there are many hassles that you must face. First of all, 30% of the royalties are withheld if you don’t have a social security number. If you are a writer publishing in any of these sites from India, you have to get an ITIN (Individual Tax Identification Number) to get back the 30% of your royalties withheld by the publishing sites. From what I have read, though application process for getting an ITIN is simple, it might take forever to get one. The maximum royalty one can get from any of these sites is 70% and in that 30% will not be yours until you get an ITIN.

Amazon Kindle, without a doubt, is the most popular of all the e-publishing options. But, publishing in Amazon kindle has an additional problem. If a buyer is from India, Amazon automatically adds some additional cost to the list price of the book fixed by the writer. If $2.99 is the price fixed by the writer, if a buyer from India wants to buy the book, he has to pay $4.99. The extra $2 goes only to Amazon; the writer has no share in this extra amount. It is an unfair deal. The higher the price of the book lesser is the sales.

Ever since I published my first e-book, I have been searching for that one place where a writer can sell the book directly to the readers without facing any of the aforementioned problems. I guess I finally found one - www.gumroad.com. There are many other sites like this, but I found gumroad.com neat and simplest of all to use. It isn’t actually a book publishing site. It is a site where you can sell anything that can be digitally delivered to the customer through e-mail – photographs, paintings, music, short films, documentaries, magazine, books etc., The buyer doesn’t need to login into the site to buy. Payment using Credit and Debit cards is secure. The buyer has to provide his e-mail Id and payment details and the product would be directly delivered to his e-mail. There is also refund facility.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

101 Moods of A.R.Rahman

101 Instrumental Pieces of A.R.Rahman. Includes mostly Background Score cues from all the films scored by A.R.Rahman, with some of his Jingles, Signature Tunes and pieces from non-film albums. 240 Minutes of non-stop A.R.Rahman's music. Enjoy!

Download 101 Moods of A.R. Rahman - Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

Moods of A.R.Rahman by Suresh Kumar on Grooveshark

Memoirs of a Rahmaniac

20 Years of A.R. Rahman!

A.R. Rahman completes 20 Years in Indian Film music. I wish A.R. Rahman continues to make music that I like, like he has always been. So looking forward to the next two decades of A.R. Rahman’s music!

I started writing Memoirs of a Rahmaniac to post it in here on 20th anniversary, but as I kept pouring my heart out and writing about every little thing that happened in my life in association with A.R. Rahman’s music, the whole write-up grew so huge in size that I realized that it cannot be just a blog post. What started off as a 2000-word blog post became 18000-word e-book. I don’t have to add much to Memoirs of a Rahmaniac to make it the Autobiography of an A.R. Rahman fan. This was pretty much my life from 1992 – 2012.

A.R. Rahman is no Mozart. I am no Salieri. And Memoirs of a Rahmaniac is no Amadeus. But you get the idea.

Download Memoirs of a Rahmaniac

Amazon Kindle


Directly from Author

Zip file contains e-book in all major formats: mobi (Kindle), epub (Nook, Kobo, Sony, iBooks), and PDF.


Memoirs of a Rahmaniac - Preview

Monday, August 6, 2012

Questions of a Rahmaniac

I edited this out of the book Memoirs of a Rahmaniac

“How did you feel when you won the Oscar? What was it like to be the sole bread winner of a family at the age of nine? How does your spirituality help you in the creation of music? Why A.R.Rahman always reserves his best for his mentor (Maniratnam)? Why do you prefer working at night? What went wrong with CWG Theme song?” – Some of the commonly asked questions in A.R.Rahman’s interviews.

A.R.Rahman could possibly be the most interviewed Indian film music composer ever. Most of these A.R.Rahman interviews have always been about A.R.Rahman the person, his humility, his philosophy, his childhood, his father, his beliefs, his success, his Oscars. There is very little spoken about what makes the man A.R.Rahman - The Music. All of those aforementioned questions and Rahman's replies for them are extremely necessary, for they give us abundant information to absorb, understand and ascertain the qualities in a composer that makes his music special, but, I, a diehard fan, a Rahmaniac, seen, heard and read enough of those archaic Qs and As. I am not blaming the interviewers. They get limited time to prepare and even lesser time to interview. There certainly were interviewers who managed an astounding balance between man and the music when interviewing A.R.Rahman, but, such interviews are far and few.

Most of the A.R.Rahman interviews, especially the ones in the recent past few years, happen not because A.R.Rahman wants to talk to people about him and his music, but because there is always a film soundtrack, or a film, or an album, or K.M. Music Conservatory, or a concert, or a book, or a brand to promote. Do not get me wrong, I am not blaming A.R.Rahman here. If my understanding of A.R.Rahman is right, given a choice, A.R.Rahman would like to stay in his studio and make music all the time instead of giving all these interviews. But, some chores have to be done.

Surprisingly or rather not so surprisingly, A.R.Rahman’s interviews that happen on the verge of the release of his Hollywood film scores have always been much more insightful with a clear focus on music, and the music alone. There, in their interviews, AR speaks in great detail about why he composed a piece in a certain way, why a certain instrument was chosen for a cue, his musical ideas and about his discussions with film makers. He is asked questions that demand such replies. I guess that is because, over there, he is not a larger than life Icon yet, on whose personality and personal life one could be interested in. He is still an upcoming film score composer.

Especially, when the interviews are a part of a grand PR exercise to push the score for the Oscars, the composer must talk about the intricacies and technical details; explain how hard it was to get the score right for the visuals of the film, for the jury and the critics circle to consider him as a worthy contender who may have a real chance of winning. There is nothing wrong in doing that. Even a John Williams has to do that. What if, A.R.Rahman did the same in his interviews back at home? There are thousands of questions any Rahmaniac would like to ask A.R.Rahman questions no one asked him before. This is just my list of questions. Most of these questions are follow-ups of the answers A.R.Rahman gave in many of his interviews and also are based on the media interviews of various film personalities and musicians who have worked with him.

You have worked as an arranger and played Keyboard as a session musician for many other south Indian film music composers including Ilaiyaraaja. You have said in many interviews that those recording sessions were boring, and you wanted to get out of it. What in those recording sessions irked you the most? Was it the lack of space to do anything creative on your own? (With Ilaiyaraaja, you just play the notes he gives you. You need not or rather should not do anything on your own.), or, was it the lack of credits? (Before A.R.Rahman, the names of the musicians who play for the recording of the film songs were hardly mentioned in the cassette) What did you get bored of – Creative process or the creation itself? You have always said that you admire Ilaiyaraaja as a person, for his saint-like discipline, but never spoke much about his music. What did you like the most in Ilaiyaraaja’s music? What is your most favourite Ilaiyaraaja album?

When Ilaiyaraaja is around and actively making music, anyone who wants to make a long standing name as a film music composer must not try to imitate Ilaiyaraaja or walk his path. That is what you said in one of your interviews. The key is to do something totally different to carve a niche of one’s own. Is that – not to sound like Ilaiyaraaja, how the sound that which we now call Rahman Sound, was born? Would Rahman have been a different composer, say, if he were born in North India and had never heard Ilaiyaraaja? How much of Rahman’s music is Rahman, because Rahman does not want to be another poor Ilaiyaraaja clone (which so many of Ilaiyaraaja’s contemporaries were)? What was the key take away, musically, from your experience of working with Ilaiyaraaja? There is not a single piece of music of A.R.Rahman that sounds like that of Ilaiyaraaja. Is this relentless refusal to invoke even faintest of Ilaiyaraaja in your music a conscious decision and effort? Or, is it that naturally, whatever comes to you never quite sounds like that of Ilaiyaraaja?

However, you do not seem to have any problems in invoking M.S.Viswanathan. I am not just talking about the songs in Iruvar. Many of your soulful melodies have a dose of M.S.Viswanathan in its melodic pattern, though you make it your own by embellishing it with modern synth arrangements and instrumental layers. At what period in your life, you started listening to M.S.Viswanathan’s music? What do you like the most about M.S.Viswanathan’s music? Have you ever started composing a melody thinking “let us make this song MSV style”? Or, does a dose of M.S.Viswanathan creeps into your compositions without even you being conscious of it? You said in an interview that you heard Mughal-E-Azam songs only when you started working on Jodhaa Akbar. I believe that you did not listen to Hindi Film music much in your growing years. Did you? Then, the music of Roja shattering the north-south barrier in Indian film music was purely coincidental. Wasn’t it? You just wanted to create a new sound, a new sensibility in film music through Roja songs, but its pan Indian success was a bonus. Wasn’t it?

No matter how new and fresh it sounds, Music is always about the melody. That you have said many times in many interviews. Where from your melodies originate? What is the initial spark that gives birth to a new melody in your mind? Where does it all begin? Of course, there is the script of the film, the situation, the characters and the mood that gives you a direction when you are composing a film song, but I would like to know the birth of melody for a song that you compose for no film. It may eventually end up as a song in one of your films, like say, Khwaja Mere Khwaja in Jodhaa Akbar, or Yeh Jo Desh in Swades. What happens in moments immediately before, when you sit, in front of your piano, to compose a melody?

Do you instantaneously compose and play melodies one after the other, on the spot, when a film maker narrates you the situation? From what I gather, you do not. You lock yourself in a room and compose a melody with no one around. Is Solitude the key for your creation? But, a new melody may pop up in your mind at any place and any time of the day. Does it not? Or, do you stop thinking music when you are outside your studio? Do you have the habit of singing and recording them with your phone or any handy recording devices as and when they pop up in your mind, for you may forget it if you do not? I ask this because you always seem to have a large bank of scratch tunes.

I do not understand what people mean when they say that A.R.Rahman takes time to compose a song. Is not creation an instantaneous and instinctive act? I guess you take just as much time as any other composer in the world to create a melody. However, if my understanding of your music is correct, it is the process of elimination and not the process of creation that takes all the time. Of course, the orchestration and the final production of the complete song takes time for obvious reasons, but the melody always happens in a composer’s mind in a jiffy. Am I right in saying so?

Director Vasanth in an interview (Rahmania Radio Show anchored by your sister Raihaana) mentioned that you gave him one sixty minutes long Piano piece as the tune for a five minutes long song. Don Black, in his interview, in the making of Bombay Dreams documentary says that you played a phrase and improvised on it for forty five minutes at a stretch. More recently, even Imtiaz Ali said in an interview that you gave him thirty minutes long scratch tune for a five minutes song in Rockstar, and that there is a forty minutes long version of Kun Faya Kun. Does this happen for every song you compose? How long do you sit composing and improvising a single melody? How do you know when to stop?

You created the song “Ishq Bina” in Taal from four different melodies you gave Subhash Ghai for the situation. Subhash Ghai asked you to create one song with all the four melodies, because he liked all of them. Hence, the song got a quirky structure it now has. But, your quirkiness does not stop there; it often seeps into the melody too. That, one can never predict how an A.R.Rahman melody would flow in a song is common knowledge, but even by your own standards, the flow of the melody in “Phir Se Udd Chalaa” song from Rockstar is stunning. Not a single phrase falls in line with our expectation. There is no groove to groove to. There is no hook to hook to. There is no comfort for a listener here, only twists and turns, surprises and more surprises. You do give us a hook – “Tu too du”, but by the time we catch hold of it and prepare to settle down with the song, the song ends. But, of course, to give us some comfort, there is that Mandolin motif you introduce right in the beginning of the song and allow it to loop throughout the song. Also, all these thrills, chills and surprises you never employ in the melody at the cost of the mood and emotion. Similarly, the free flowing “Rehna Tu” from Delhi-6 had a Guitar motif (borrowed from your own Chiththirai Nilavu Saelaiyil Vandhadhu song from Vandicholai Chinnarasu) looping all over the middle stanzas to give a hook-stick to the listeners. Is that how, you, even when at your lunatic self in experimenting with melody structures and song patterns, manage not to alienate the listeners?

This game that you play with the listeners is so taxing and tiring initially, but once we understand the rules of the game, we surrender and even get obsessed with it. But, the only rule when it comes to A.R.Rahman's music seems to be that there are no rules. How do you convince your film makers to pick such quirky song structures and melodies? Obviously, like any music listener, even they cannot instantly know whether they like an A.R.Rahman song? Do all film makers you work with also take a long time to allow the song to grow, before they approve a tune? When you play a melody to them for approval, do you put up a disclaimer upfront about whether this melody is "instantly likeable", or "slowly growing"? Ram Gopal Varma in his blog mentioned that he initially hated the Spirit of Rangeela and Hai Raama songs. Do you help and explain to them if they could not see the beauty of a composition by themselves?

With every tom, dick and harry sharing what was once an exclusive A.R.Rahman sound, do you see this quirk in the melody as the uniqueness of A.R.Rahman’s music that no one can replicate? We could not think of any other composer who could pull off a Phir Se Udd Chala. However, the Lyricists seem to be having a tough time writing for A.R.Rahman’s compositions. Filling sensible verses into such unpredictably flowing musical phrases is not easy. How do you convince your lyricists to do that? Almost all the lyric writers who write for your songs have equally criticized and praised your music. Most often a lyricist’s major grouse is that your melodies are set to quirky meter and pattern, and it is extremely tough to fit words into them. And yet, all of them have written some magnificent poetry in your music and have won loads of Awards and popularity. What is the trick? How do you approach the lyrics in your music? How significant do you think that it is essential to have meaningful lyrics for the song not just to be popular, but also to be remembered for decades?

There has always been complaints, sometimes even from some of the lyricists who have worked with you, about the lack to importance to lyrics in your songs. One of the most recent instances, where the lyricist was openly unhappy about how it was treated by you in the songs, is Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya and the lyricist is Thaamarai. Even, Gautam Menon defended you by saying that in Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya, he wanted music to drive home the emotions more than the lyrics. Have you ever had any lyricist objecting to write a song because he could not understand the flow of melody and write meaningful lyric for? Is that why you and Maniratnam together wrote Veera song in Raavanan and not Vairamuthu?

How often have you mended the melody that instinctively flew from your mind, on the insistence of lyricist because the lyricist finds it impossible to fit his verses into the melody? What is your preferred method of making a song – melody for lyrics or lyrics for melody? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of both of these approaches? I understand that in most of your songs, it has always been a combination of both, like some parts would be composed for the lyrics and some parts would be written for the melody. Is that the middle path you most often walk? Don Black said that you wanted hook phrases from him (the breathtakingly melodious Journey Home in Bombay Dreams was born after Don black gave you the phrase “Journey home is never too long”), to initiate a spark for the melody. Why is that necessary? How often do you do that for film songs?

In Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya audio launch held in London, after the singers performed the unplugged versions of the songs from the film, you said that the unplugged versions presented by the singers on stage sounded better than the original. Why then, there are those unending layers of instruments densely stacked in every song of yours? Has this Rahman soundscape now become an albatross on Rahman’s neck? Is there a fear of not being Rahman enough, if you leave the songs in its purest form with just the layers of acoustic guitar and Piano? When do you choose to leave a song like that? We had such pristine gems like Anbendra Mazhaiyilae, Vellai Pookal and even Aaromalae where it had minimal layers. Is A.R.Rahman averse to minimalism? Why not just leave the melody as it is? Why burden the song with such dense layers of instrumentation? You did win every possible music award for Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya music. If you had made the songs like the way singers sang unplugged in the audio launch, do you think that the songs wouldn’t have busted the charts to the extent they in their current versions did?

That brings us to the other most indispensable element of a song – The orchestration. What, according to you, the orchestration does to a song? How do you begin orchestrating a song? In the documentary on Making of Bombay Dreams, I see you sitting in front of your keyboard listening to “Salaam Bombay” track, and simultaneously playing whatever that comes to your mind instinctively, in sync with the main melody. The String section, conducted by Srinivasamoorthy, plays whatever you just played on your keyboard, and the track is overdubbed with this string section layer. Is this how you arrange every song of yours? Has it ever happened that when you think the melody in your mind, it comes to you along with additional instrumental layers and rhythm pattern? Or, do you consciously avoid thinking too many layers at the same time, and just concentrate only on the main melody? Has the approach always been a trial and error, of adding and removing layers? To make it simpler, how did you create “Tango for Taj”? I often hear you using the term “Template” when talking about a song. What do you mean by “template”? What constitutes a template? Do you sit and create various such templates of songs, totally different from one another, even before you have a melody to fill the template?

We would like to believe that every layer of instrument, ever clink and clank in an A.R.Rahman song is done by A.R.Rahman, but we often see names like Krishna Chetan, Praveen Mani, Clinton Cerejo, Ranjit Barot, Hentry Kuruvilla, Kazimir Boyle and many others mentioned as additional arrangers and programmers of your songs. What is the role of an additional arranger and programmer? What layers do they additionally add to a song? What do they bring in to a song? How do you confidently allow someone else to play with your creation and where do you draw the line? What do you tell them when you give a song for additional arrangements? What is the review process like? When you said PA Deepak, “We have a track called Pappu can’t dance, let us see what you can do with it”, what do you expect him to do?

You are an arranger yourself. You did arrangements for many other composers, before you became one. Those whom you arranged music for, composed only the main melody, and left the rest to you. However, with you as a composer, the case is totally different. You would have already arranged the song, before it goes to them. Isn't it? Have you ever left the arrangement of an entire song to your assistants? The only instance I could remember is the remix of “Pon Magal Vandhaal” in Azhaghiya Tamizh Magan, but you did give complete credit to Krishna Chetan for that remix on the CD. What does Kazimir Boyle mean when he uploads in the music section of his official website, the background score pieces (Ghajini, Endhiran Variations, Lathika’s Theme Variations) that we always thought were composed, arranged and produced by you? Kazimir Boyle was also credited as “Additional Background Score” composer for Jodha Akbar? What was his contribution in the background score?

You have expressed your thoughts on remixes before. But, I am more interested in some of the amazing rearrangements you did for your own songs. The romantic Poraalae Ponnuthaayi from Kizhakku Seemayilae became the anthemic Gurus of peace in Vande Mataram. Baba Kichu Kichuthaa from Baba became the lovely Dekho Na in Swades. Ottagaththai Kattikko from Gentleman became the worldly pop Musafir in Vande Mataram album. The funky Synth bass lines in the interlude of Chandralekha from Thiruda Thiruda became folksy Mandolin motif of Usilampatti Penkutty song in Gentleman. You totally re-arrange a popular track, and yet make it sound as appealing as the original. How do you approach such rearrangements? How does one consciously wipe out the original version from mind, especially when it is extremely popular, and make something that is totally different?

Have you ever thought that you are pushing it too far, while composing or arranging a song? Do you have to try too hard to be simple and conventional in your music? Do you feel that your music, especially now, when it is designed to sound simple and conventional, doesn’t excite the listeners enough? That, I believe, happened with Jhoota Hi Sahi, which in my opinion is as competent a soundtrack as any of yours in the recent past. It was simple and straight forward soundtrack, with soothing melodies and breezy orchestration. No one says its bad either, but people out there do not seem to accept anything less than earth shattering from A.R.Rahman. Isn’t that so unfair an expectation? Is it possible for a composer to shatter the earth in every damn song?

Let us also talk about a dreaded and confused term that has come to be associated with your music ever since Roja – “Fusion”. Though, it is common knowledge that Indian film music has always been a mishmash of many genres of music. What is your definition of fusion music? Playing a melody set in a genre of music in an instrument that is alien to the genre of the melody – is that fusion? Even when you do a club song, you include a semi-classical section in it, like say, the Thirikita Dhaana in Paappu Can’t Dance, the sargams in Yakkai Thiri (Ayutha Ezhuthu), or the melodious female vocals in “Shano Shano”. Carnatic music on club beats - Fusion? Or is it just a way to infuse some musical heft into something that otherwise could become totally fluff? And what is this obsession with RAP? Why a theme song for World Tamil Conference Semmozhiyaana Tamizhmozhiyam had to have a RAP section? And is layering traditional Tamil instrument like Thavil and Nadhaswaram alongside RAP portions a way to not make it sound not too alien?

An Indian classical melody is backed by a western classical harmony in Bombay theme. Mughal music is given a tango twist in “Tango for Taj” from Rockstar. There is a serene and sublime western classical take on a devotional Sufi song in the instrumental version of Khwaja mere Khwaja. Indian tarana meets Spanish Flamenco in Salvadore in Couples Retreat. Gujarati folk meet Arabic chants in the coda of Mayya Mayya from Guru. Carnatic music is set to Middle Eastern rhythms in Cairo to India. And, there are innumerable number of songs in which you have used Thavil like no one else used Thavil ever before. There is that simple yet exhilarating Guitar motif that adds a spiritual touch to a fun song in Katiya Karoon. There is a worldly confluence of sounds and instruments in the interlude of Dil Gira Daftan in Delhi-6. And, that Mylapore blues from Connections.

In Indian theme there is Palakkad Sriram’s Hindustani-based alaaps on one side, that brings in a sense of loss, a sense of fear, a sense of troubled past all at the same time, there is Spanish guitars on the other side to underline style, brevity and poise in the choreography of the action and in between there is a tribal chant that underlines the cold-blooded brutality in the way each murder is executed. How does this sort of a confluence of genres of music happen? What is the thought process that leads you to put together a piece like this?

Is fusion ever a conscious effort? Do you ever sit and tell yourself that “okay now I am going to make fusion music”? When in an interview, Maniratnam was asked about working with you, he said, "There is a lot of choice you get when working with Rahman. I would ask wildest thing and he would not brush it aside. He would seriously think whether we can do it. It could be a classical number and I could ask him to do a little Spanish in it.” How far Maniratnam has taken you with such wild ideas? Do you have a large bank of such ideas of what to mix with what, somewhere in a document, or as scratch templates in your studio computer?

Now that I have quoted Maniratnam, the director with whom you broke many new grounds in Indian film music, I would like to know how much A.R.Rahman’s music is envisioned by your film makers. Of course, it is you who are going to compose the melody at the end. But, how much of the conceptualization of the sound, structure and mood of an A.R.Rahman song is dictated by filmmakers? Do you blindly trust the film makers, and if yes, is the level of trust same with all filmmakers? You have worked with many of the A-list (whatever that means) directors in India and strangely you also seem to have no problems in working with film makers who make films, which many may not consider as a film worthy of A.R.Rahman’s music. How do you choose your films? You say, instinctively. But, when you work with such film makers, are you not worried that the songs for which you put so much of your heart, soul and effort into might go unsung because of the film's failure? Though, I know that, that has hardly been the case. No matter what the fate of the film was, your songs from these films have been ageing well and finding a life of their own outside the film. However, success of the music of the film depends a lot on the success of the film these days. Isn't it? For instance, “Jhoota Hi Sahi” did not bust the charts, I guess mainly because of the film’s failure at the box office. On the contrary, though Delhi-6 bombed at the box office, you swept every possible award for the best composer for Delhi-6 music. And then there are films like Ada, about which no one knows anything. Why did you choose not to compose music for Farhan Akthar’s “Dil Chahtha Hai”? What is the yardstick with which you make your final decision on a film?

In general, there is this general opinion that A.R.Rahman has lost his Midas touch and that his music is not as exhilarating as it used to be in 1990s. I do not agree with this. However, if I have to make a similar now-then comment on an aspect of A.R.Rahman, it would be about the live concerts. My most favourite A.R.Rahman concert, in the last decade, is the one you did for Doordarshan with a small band of musicians and singers. That concert was magical. In an earlier concert DVD interview, you said, “I need at least three months to prepare for the concert”. Those were the concerts in which the original singers performed the entire song with live instruments. But, now, you do nearly a dozen concerts in various cities around the world in a year. The singers who perform in these concerts are not those who sang the original, and furthermore, songs are being performed without even a string section. How satisfied are you, personally, with the quality of these concerts? What is the key takeaway for you, as a composer, from these worldwide concert tours? Have these concert experiences impacted the way you create music in your studio? Now, A.R.Rahman takes the centre stage, sings, shakes his body and sometimes even awkwardly walks up and down, in and out of the set pieces on the stage. Are you trying to come out of your comfort zone in your live performances? Also, you have been doing concerts of your instrumental film scores with symphony orchestras for quite some time, but they none of them hit the bull’s eye the way Classic Incantations Concert did? What went wrong in all those symphonic concerts?

It is an intriguing irony that the one who said, “I do not believe anymore that only the music recorded with real instruments is high quality music” in an interview given for Making of Bombay Dreams DVD, has now started a music conservatory that encourages Indian youth to learn playing acoustic instruments. And what is even more ambitious is the attempt at forming first Indian symphony orchestra, which could play classical western symphonies, and more importantly, your film score recordings. When did this change of mind happen? Also, we see you hard selling the concept of K.M. Music Conservatory in all your public appearances, to bring in more investors. Is K.M. Music conservatory slowly becoming a burden on your shoulders? You even told that “I cannot concentrate on the conservatory all the time. I also have a career as a composer”. Are there anything in the last 5 years of your career as a composer, you would have done differently if you had not started K.M. Music Conservatory? And when is A.R.Rahman going to write his first symphony? Earlier, you had said in an interview that you were not spiritually ready yet. Are you ready now, or are you in the process of making yourself ready to write a symphony? You cannot escape saying that people do not listen to such classical, symphonic compositions anymore. You are not a composer, who underestimates the listeners. I am sure you can do even a symphony in a way that could be liked by everyone. Whatever you have composed so far in Symphonic style has been for film scores.

Composing a film score requires a thorough understanding of the medium of Cinema and the relationship of sound and music with the visuals. If background-music scoring is making music to moving images, then the process of making music for commercials is not much different from that of a feature film. Is it not? You have always said in interviews that the experience of composing advertisement jingles helped you a great deal in becoming a film music (songs) composer. Did the experience in composing jingles helps you in writing scores for full length feature films? (If Rahman says, yes) How? Leo Coffee may not be the first advertisement that you composed music for, but it is the jingle that brought on you the spotlight so bright so that Maniratnam could not help but notice. In Leo Coffee Ad, music is perfectly in sync with the visuals. What came first, in Leo Coffee Ad - visuals or music? Do you remember any other commercial for which you composed music after it was shot? That exquisite Asian Paints Pongal Special Ad?

Before you became film composer, you must have known that in Tamil Cinema, unlike in Hindi cinema, the song composer is also the score composer of the film. How were you preparing yourself to be a film score composer before Roja happened? Were you listening to Hollywood film scores? Were you a film buff? What was the kind of films you were fond of watching before you entered films? What are your favourite Tamil films that released before Roja? You also worked as a musician in Ilaiyaraaja’s orchestra in the most prolific phase of Ilaiyaraaja’s career. You must have certainly played in a lot of background score recording sessions for Ilaiyaraaja. Did any of those sessions help you in understanding the art of writing film score?

Roja has a thematic score that diligently follows all the rules in the book. How much of it was because of Maniratnam? Do you remember any conversation that you had with Maniratnam before you started composing background music for Roja? What were his requirements? How difficult or easy was composing background score for Roja? Was there anything that you felt that could have been better in Roja background score when you saw the complete film for the first time? What is it and why? What, according to you, are the qualities of a right background score?

Could you elaborate further on what is the process you follow when writing score for a film? How many times do you watch a film before writing the score? How do you prepare yourself before starting to write the score for a film? Do you listen to all the songs you composed for the film again to draw some inspiration? How do you decide on whether a character needs to be represented as a leitmotif in the score? Do you start to score the scenes in the order in which they play out in the film? Or do you pick the critical moments from the film to score first?

In Indian film scores, mostly, the orchestral versions of the melodies of the songs become the background score cues. But, you have always composed new material for background score. How do you decide between using the melody of the song and composing a new melody for a character’s theme or a situation? What is the kind of discussions you have about the background score with the directors of the film? Do all directors actively participate in background scoring sessions? How do you prefer it to be? Do Indian film makers also use temp music, like it always happens in Hollywood, to communicate effectively to you what they want? Do you like this method of using temp music that directors use to ease the communication with the composer, or do you think it is narrowing down the options one could otherwise explore? Do you fully surrender to director’s vision even if you do not totally agree with their idea? (Though you weren’t for it, you agreed to use Voices in the background score of Ghajini because A.R.Murugadass insisted demand) Have there been any conflicts or difference of opinions?

Composing songs or background score - which is more challenging and creatively satisfying? “Anything that goes out of this studio must be good”, you have said that many times. In case of songs, you get a lot of time to think about each and every instrument used in each layer of the song and tweak it many times before you are convinced about the song as a whole. Usually, background score is done in the last-minute rush, before the release of the film. Do you get enough time to go for as many iterations of review and re-tweak the background score composed for the film? (You told that you completed the complete Endhiran score in 10 days and slept only 2 hours a day). Does your creativity suffer when you work in such hectic schedules? What is the minimum time you ever took for doing a background score for a film and the maximum time and for which films and why? Have you ever had to compose for the background score for more than one film at a time?

On what basis, you decide on whether a particular scene needs no music? What do you think is the significance of a silence that is deliberately written into the score of a film? How do you decide whether it is going to be thematic score or ambient score? Is it possible to be as quirky as you are in your songs in background score too? Would not that distract the audience? What genre of film or a scene excites you most when writing background score?

As a composer, the film that you compose music for may not always turn out the way you initially expected it be while listening to the story. It is easy to compose background score for good films. You had the privilege of working with some of the best of Indian film makers and films, but you also have worked in lesser films. Where do you get inspiration from for such films when the visual telling is not exciting enough? They often say that background score can elevate even an average film. Do you believe that? Can a bad film be turned better with good background score? Is it in such situations, you delegate the job of background score to one of your assistants like Pravin Mani, which you have done quite a few times. You said that, after watching the film Rang De Basanti, you decided to compose the background score yourself, though you initially thought of delegating it to one of your assistants.

You have done many period films. How important it is to restrict oneself to the sound of the period in case of period films? Like, in Rang De Basanti, you took a totally opposite route and used rock guitars for the scenes of the past. How did that happen? Whose idea was it? Have you ever accepted a film having the challenge of background score for the film in mind? If you had to do only background score for the films in the future, would that be okay for you?

You used a professional Symphony orchestra for the first time to record the score of ‘Legend of Bhaghad Singh’. Using Symphony orchestra for the score - Whose Idea was it - Yours or Rajkumar Santoshi’s? I am asking this because, the film Rajkumar Santoshi made just before Legend of the Bhaghad Singh also had a symphonic background score. Otherwise, what in the film makes you go for a symphonic orchestra for the score? Mostly it has been for either period films or Super hero films? Even in Meenaxi, you used symphonic score only for the Prague episode. Would you ever use a symphonic orchestra for a contemporary film? For example, say, can you imagine a Slumdog Millionaire or a 127 Hours with a full length symphonic score?

When you are creating songs in your style, you have the flexibility to add or remove layers of the track, stretch or shrink the piece, and try various combinations any number of times you want, but with a symphonic orchestra, once you have recorded the piece, that is it. Isn’t it? So, how different is the process, when the score is going to be recorded with symphonic orchestra? What are the challenges, advantages and disadvantages when recording a score with a symphonic orchestra? Almost all of your symphonic scores were orchestrated by Matt Dunkley. What is the role of an orchestrator? What do you tell an orchestrator when you leave a creation of yours for further development to someone else? How do you preserve your stamp in the piece, when a piece of yours is orchestrated by someone else? Because, when not recorded with a symphony orchestra, mostly you arrange and orchestrate your scores – for example, the grand orchestral pieces in Lagaan or Bombay theme, some of the tracks you regularly pick to perform in every symphonic Concert of yours were entirely arranged by you. You have told in many of your interviews that you don’t compose pieces to match with cuts and shifts in the visuals. How does this method of making cues work when it is a symphonic orchestra?

You have used a lot of tunes from your scratch-tunes bank as themes in background scores of many of your films, and some of these cues you later used for songs of other films. (The cue, which plays when Roja prays to Lord Ganesha for her Sister’s marriage, was later used in Telephone Manipol Sirippaval Ivalaaa song in Indian. The cue that plays when Roja speaks to her mother-in-law over the phone after Rishi is abducted, soon became the song Rakkoli Rendum Mulichirukku in the film Uzhavan. Azhagu Nilavu from Pavithra was a cue in the background score of Pudhiya Mugam. Also, Muppadhu Nimidam from Parasuram was a cue in the background score of May Maadham.) And this has happened even in your recent films. Does this happen often because, you feel a good melody is unnoticed by many, when it becomes a part of the background score? Do you feel that there is a lack of recognition for background scores in India? Then, why not release these background score pieces as a part of the soundtrack CD? It happened for all your films this past year. Can we expect that to happen for all your films in the future?

There is a vast fan base out there, who would like to listen to your film scores in good quality. You can easily see that there are hundreds of sites where you can download the background score pieces ripped from the DVDs of the film. Do you have any plans of releasing a compilation of themes from your films on CD? Are you aware that National Awards committee has included a separate category for background scores? What are your thoughts on the institution of separate National award category for background scores?

That is it as of now. I guess the list of questions will continue to grow....